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The study examined how employee scheduling practices affect health, family life, financial stability, and academic pursuits. The study examined how employee scheduling practices affect health, family life, financial stability, and academic pursuits.
 


Erratic Schedules are Hardly Working for These Stressed Employees

A study finds major disruptions in the lives of retail and food-service workers who can't rely on predictable shifts.
By Leslie L.J. Reilly
 

The barista serving your cappucino may be missing an important exam, and the supermarket courtesy clerk bagging the ingredients for tonight’s dinner could be stressed to the max from lack of sleep.

Unpredictable job schedules — constantly changing hours, 10 hours or less between shifts — can have deeply negative impacts on workers’ health and personal lives, a new study at San Diego State University shows.

Scheduling practices such as short advanced notice and on-call shifts “may be convenient for employers, but come at a tremendous cost to workers,” the study said, with students particularly impacted. Workers left “at the beck and call of their employer,” it reports, are unable to plan social engagements, medical appointments, class attendance, and other important life obligations.

SDSU sociology professor Jill Esbenshade’s findings, published today by the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI) and SDSU’s Center for Community Research and Engagement, highlight the need for policies that support employees’ rights to fair work scheduling practices.

“Employers are shifting all of the risk onto workers by scheduling them at the last minute or assigning them on-call shifts,” said Esbenshade, lead researcher on the report. “The result for workers is that they have no control of their non-work time.”

The study looked at nearly 2,800 hourly workers in San Diego County, mostly in the retail and food-service sectors and drawn heavily from students at SDSU and San Diego City College with off-campus jobs, to examine how employee scheduling practices affect health, family life, financial stability, and academic pursuits.

Inability to plan

More than 85% of survey participants face negative consequences due to unpredictable work scheduling practices, a figure that rises to more than 95% among workers in the food service, grocery, and retail industries. One of the most common complaints is the inability to plan social time and appointments with no set days off.

The study looked at employer practices such as failing to post schedules more than two weeks in advance, changes with short notice, and “clopening,” the practice of scheduling a worker for back-to-back closing and opening shifts. Currently no state or federal regulations prohibit employers from utilizing such scheduling practices.

Two out of three students reported that erratic work schedules interfered with academic studies, interfering with their ability to attend classes and  exams, and ultimately taking longer to graduate.

The study also found unpredictability in work shifts can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to maintain a healthy sleep schedule and manage their time. One SDSU student, working as a manager for a movie theater, was repeatedly required to work past his scheduled shift end. He would be scheduled until 1 a.m., but was frequently required to continue working from one to six hours past the end of his shift, occasionally leaving work at 7 a.m. This made it very difficult to get to morning classes, according to the student.

“As a professor I have seen, first-hand, students experiencing these issues,” said Esbenshade. “And, I do my best to support them.”

Financial stress

Unstable scheduling practices can lead to financial uncertainty for some workers. An SDSU student working in food service, for example, described how the unstable scheduling practices he experienced directly led to leaving the job due to the conflicts it created in his personal life and school. Only one-week advance notice was provided in schedules, and on-call scheduling was also commonly expected.

The report found that unstable schedules can lead to food insecurity as well. Of those who use their income for food, 43% of survey respondents reported that their work schedule impacts their ability to purchase enough food.

Several cities, including San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Seattle, have proposed and adopted “Fair Workweek” policies to guarantee workers some stability and work/life balance to improve their lives.

The study offers seven policy recommendations that include:

  • At least two weeks’ advance notice of schedule changes
  • The right to decline hours added after posting, and premium pay for such changes
  • The right to decline work with fewer than 12 hours’ rest between shifts

“COVID-19 has put workers at more of a disadvantage in their workplaces,” said Esbenshade. ”Now, more job instability, loss of income, and precarious health and OSHA protections are compounding the problems with unpredictable scheduling.”

“We need local Fair Workweek policies to provide San Diego workers with more socially and financially stable lives, and to create more equitable, sustainable, and positive employer-employee relationships,” the study concluded.

Research funding provided by: SDSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning and Service Learning and Community Engagement Program, Satterberg Foundation, California Wellness Foundation, California Endowment, Marguerite Casey Foundation and Irvine Foundation